Meet Nikki: Jewish Teacher of the Week!

nikki

Allie: How did you wind up in DC?

Nikki: I applied to be a part of the Avodah Jewish Service Corps, which is a year-long Jewish service program. At 22, didn’t know what I wanted to do professionally, but knew I wanted to be part of repairing the world and Avodah gave me the opportunity to figure it out. I appreciated that it had a Jewish lens because Judaism has always been very important to my life.

Allie: Why is Judaism important to you?

Nikki: My answer changes depending on where I am in life. Right now, my first thought is my wedding, future family, and future career path. But, 10 years ago, it would have been about how I’m building relationships with people and what volunteer work I’m doing. 10 years before that it was “Who am I?”.

At this point in my life, I’m planning a Jewish wedding with my fiancé, but what an interfaith marriage means to us is different from what our parents had. I’ve been thinking about what my parents did for me in creating our home – like having family dinners consistently be a part of our Jewish practice and valuing education so much. It’s no mistake that I wound up working in education as a profession.

Judaism has always been an easy thing to turn to if I was scared, or unsure, or joyful. It’s very moldable and flexible.

Allie: Tell me about your experience with Avodah?

Nikki: It was kind of like Real World: the Jewish DC edition. 24 of us in two houses; where people explored their faith and things got real. It was an awesome experience where we learned how to use our Judaism to be agents of change.

We had house meetings, everything was communal. We once had a 2-hour long discussion about whether or not to buy a crock pot for the house. We all had jobs outside the house, and mine was at DC SCORES as the Community Outreach Coordinator.  That professional experience was transformative for me. 

Allie: What led you to work as a teacher in special education?

Nikki: I knew from an early age I wanted to be a teacher, and my job at DC SCORES allowed me a chance to work within schools all over the city. My biggest reason for specializing in teaching students with disabilities was my younger sister, Dana. She has ADHD and always struggled in school growing up – mostly because the environments she was in could not adjust to her style of learning. It was then I knew I wanted to be a part of creating a more inclusive learning classroom for all the Dana’s out there that just needed a teacher who “gets it” – and many of us do!

So I made a decision to get a Masters in Teaching Students with Moderate Disabilities at Lesley University and go into special education, specifically inclusive education using Universal Design to fit the classroom to my students’ needs. It was the best decision I ever made.

I’ve enjoyed working to unravel the science of learning with my students – it’s similar to taking apart a puzzle and rebuilding it in a totally different way. Watching students make progress who previously believed they couldn’t is always the best part of my day.

My partner also works in the disability field, and he recently started a unified rugby team for kids of all abilities called Washington Wolf Pack. I’m their social media manager. 

nikki and fiance

Allie: What’s your dream DC day from start to finish?

Nikki: I’d wake up without an alarm, and immediately have a delicious espresso. From there, I’d walk to the Arboretum and spend time walking and reading there. I’d have some delicious sandwich for lunch – I love sandwiches – and then spend time with people that I like. It seems simple, but so are the best things in life.

Allie: What do you do to relax?

Nikki: I love reading science fiction, especially on a hammock. Science fiction has a way of taking me away from whatever I’m feeling or thinking. 

Allie: What are you most excited about for the coming Jewish New Year?

Nikki: I’m excited that, this year feels like a big personal year. I’m excited to be in my 30’s and take more time for me this year.

Allie: What’s on your life bucket list?

Nikki: I want to start learning rock climbing. And pottery. I have a whole list of “maybe this is my new thing” hobbies I want to check off this year!

Allie: What is your favorite Jewish holiday?

Nikki: I love Passover. It’s so moldable to whatever is happening is the world now. I’ve seen some pretty interesting ways to interpret Passover to understand various human rights issues that are closer to us (in time and location) than our Exodus from Egypt. My partner and I have taken our own approach to celebrating Passover a little differently and added new items to the seder plate. That has been the first time I’ve seen him get really engaged in our Jewish home. It feels like something we’ve built together. My favorite new seder plate item of ours is something he came up with: a radish to represent people with disabilities. Often overlooked in value or placed there to be a decorative item, the radish offers incredible nutritional value when fully included in the dish.

passover nikki

Allie: What’s something people might be surprised to know about you?

Nikki: I was an All-American cheerleader in high school, and used to competitively dance. I channel a LOT of that team spirit and kinesthetic movement in my teaching.

Allie: When Jews of DC Gather…

Nikki: There’s a lot of laughter and delicious food!

nikki

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Can We Find Joy In Vulnerable Times this Sukkot?

As Yom Kippur ended last Wednesday night, I quickly had a bite of a bagel and downed some orange juice. I soon checked in on social media after taking a nice break from it over the holiday. 

I was quickly horrified to see the news of the terrorist attack on a synagogue in Halle, Germany earlier that day and the tragic death of two innocent people, 40 year-old Jana Lange and 20 year-old Kevin S. This tragic shooting came about a year after another terrorist attack on a Jewish house of worship in Pittsburg. In between were too many acts of baseless hatred directed against minorities here and around the world. 

This time I knew some of the victims who were at the synagogue in Halle and thankfully, lived to tell of their experiences. As one can imagine, they recounted how terrifying the ordeal was and to have to wait inside (and even outside) the locked synagogue for help to arrive. They also shared deep gratitude that the terrorist was not able to infiltrate the building and kill even more people. The group of Jews who started the day in a synagogue on the holiest day of the year concluded their Yom Kippur service at a local hospital instead, where they were taken to be checked for signs of shock and trauma. 

One of the people I know later posted a video of several members of the group coming home from the hospital on a bus together. One person blew the shofar as many communities do to mark the end of Yom Kippur, and then the group erupted in joyous song and dance (which is another way communities conclude Yom Kippur, but this time the gratitude was obviously connected to surviving what had transpired earlier that day).

bus video

Members of the group singing together on a bus returning from the hospital after the Yom Kippur shooting in Halle, Germany

Although I understood the vast range of emotions the folks inside the synagogue must have felt throughout the day, instinctively I couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable watching this video. I had just learned about everything that happened and was in the throes of feeling the three A’s: anxious, angry, and afraid. I know I could only interpret this experience as an onlooker, but I just couldn’t imagine what it must have been like to muster up any kind of will to sing and dance after living through a nightmarish experience. I’m sure there were some who didn’t.  

Even if it didn’t feel natural to me as the one reading this news from afar, I recognize that mustering up song is a deep and important act of spiritual resilience in the midst of deep pain.

In no way will the Jews who were there in Halle forget this Yom Kippur – it will forever impact them as it will those who lost their loved ones that day. I pray that they soon find comfort in their grief. 

But I want to recognize that this attack, like many others, can and may have already seeped into our own minds every time we walk into a visible Jewish space or publically show up as a Jewish person. Truth be told, I find myself worrying more and more about physical violence in public places, Jewish and not, and I don’t know if not being afraid is an option anymore. Is it just a matter of when it happens as opposed to if it happens at this point? 

And yet, before I despair for too long, logic tells me that the world will continue to turn and we must go along with it. While we are alive and breathing, we always have the ability to shape our responses to people and events, and therefore, we can redefine these vulnerable times. 

One piece of Jewish wisdom I find myself going back to again and again when I’m disheartened comes from Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Father. It says, 

“In a place where there are no people, strive to be a person” (Pirkei Avot 5:2).

What this means is that when our humanity is deeply challenged, we must show up as the full, beautiful, and loving humans that we are. And sometimes, that has to entail creating moments for joy regardless of what’s going on around us. 

I can’t think of a better time than this week of Sukkot to lean deeply into this message. On Sukkot, we are told to dwell (eat, hang out, and if possible, sleep) in sukkot, or huts which commemorate the temporary shelters the Israelites lived in as they wandered through the desert after leaving Egypt. But the Torah also says,

“You shall rejoice in your festival … and you shall have nothing but joy.“ (Deuteronomy  16:14-15).

Joy is such a central part to Sukkot that it even goes by another name, Z’man Simchateinu, “The Season of our Rejoicing.” So, unless one is really into glamping (which I am, actually…), how is this holiday supposed to help us feel joy? And what are we celebrating exactly?

Sukkot is a holiday of rejoicing, but many may not realize that it’s about rejoicing amidst our vulnerability. More than anything, Sukkot is a festival that commemorates a period of wandering. It asks us to reenact that in-between place of knowing where we came from (or fled from) and where we’d like to be (and may soon arrive at), but not sure how long the present moment of the unknown will last or what it will consist of. 

Sukkot (the huts) are made to help us embody this message by exposing us to the outside world (a “kosher” sukkah must allow us to see the stars in the sky at night, so the “roofing” which usually consists of scattered bamboo shoots, branches or corn stalks, can’t totally protect us from the rain, sun, or even bird poop). The sides are usually made with a tarp or strung pieces of cloth. They are not meant to be comfortable fortresses, let alone a real home.  

On Sukkot we literally embody the temporary nature of things and remember that we are often susceptible to the elements, which may not seem so fun when it rains or is windy. We also observe the holiday with joyful prayers (accompanied by shaking a sweet smelling plant/fruit combo called a lulav and etrog), songs, and festive meals. Additionally, it is a custom to invite guests to our sukkot each day. On Sukkot, we practice facing the world openly, but together.

Sukkot

If Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur ask us to move inward and examine our internal lives, Sukkot asks us to shift our gaze outward.

We may not always like what we see, and we may be forced to see difficult things anew each day, but we can resolve to do so with our own humanity intact by living out our values, being in community, deepening our relationships, and finding moments to celebrate what is good in our lives. And sometimes, the outside world is breathtakingly gorgeous and we should let Mother Earth do her own healing work on us, too. 

So, should we seek joy amidst our vulnerability? Absolutely. It’s our right. Can we? It’s hard, but it’s definitely possible. How should we try? By being realistic about the world we live in and still showing up as human beings, together. 

We don’t need to eat every meal in a sukkah to be able to do this, nor do we have to celebrate this week with Jews alone, but what if we tried to spend each day this week creating a moment for joy, relief or celebration for other people? 

  • Tell people in your life that you’re grateful for them,
  • Compliment others on something they do well,
  • Ask how an old friend is doing,  
  • Bake something delicious for your officemates, 
  • Cook a meal with good friends and invite a new one to join your group,
  • Give up your seat on the metro during rush hour, 
  • Happily give someone in need the money they ask for. 

That’s my plan this week and I hope you’ll join me and tell me all about it. 

Wishing you a chag sameach – a truly joyous holiday. 

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ilanaAbout the author: Rabbi Ilana Zietman is GatherDC’s Community Rabbi. She loves meeting new people and exploring Jewish ideas that are relevant and alive for people in their 20’s and 30’s. When Rabbi Ilana isn’t officially Gathering, she can be found cooking in her kitchen, practicing yoga, going on hikes, desperately searching for good pizza in DC (seriously, help her find some!) and watching a lot of tv.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Meet Miriam: Jewish Internationalist of the Week

miriamAllie: What led you to live in DC?

Miriam: I grew up in Silver Spring and wasn’t planning to come back after graduation, but there were a lot of jobs here in international affairs. I don’t know if DC will be my forever place, but it’s great for now.

Allie: What led to your passion in international affairs?

Miriam: I’ve always been interested in it, especially since I grew up in DC and there are lots of embassies and a big international community here. I was lucky enough to be able to travel while I was in college, and became really interested in how other people are living around the world. 

Being exposed to different countries, geographies, and lifestyles made me want to study this on an academic level. I want to get a macro look at the systems and institutions that create the state of international affairs, how countries interact with each other, and then how people interact with each other. Specifically, my interests lie in studying gender, inclusion, and religions and how those forces influence what people value, and how that has a ripple effect on policy, government, and diplomacy

Allie: Walk me through your dream day in DC from start to finish.

Miriam: I’ll start with bagels because that’s very important to me. My personal loyalty lies with Bethesda Bagels, but for this dream day I might go to Bullfrog Bagels at Eastern Market and then walk around the market, try some produce samples. I’d then go be on the water – maybe get a sailboat, or kayak. I would bring a picnic of things I got from Eastern Market to Kingman Island. Then, I’d pick a nice rooftop to watch the sunset and have dinner at Maydan. After dinner I’d go get a drink somewhere.

Allie: How do you relax?

Miriam: I love to walk, which is such a great way to get to know new places. I also love to lie on my hammock and read. I love to cook as well. Since I’ve started working and am looking at a computer all day, cooking allows me to not look at a screen, decompress, and then get some good food at the end! 

Allie: What are your favorite things to cook?

Miriam: I’m a vegetarian, and I love making spaghetti squash with caramelized onions and adding maple syrup and brown sugar – it’s like dessert spaghetti. I love baked mac and cheese. I think that might be my favorite food. I also make green curry now and then when I have the patience.

miriam

Allie: What’s your favorite Jewish dish?

Miriam: Apple strudel. My mom makes to for Sukkot every year.

Allie: Who is your Jewish role model?

Miriam: One of the rabbis at Tufts Hillel, Rabbi Jordan, who focuses a lot on building community and meeting people where they are. He works hard to expand the idea of what being Jewish can mean. During Elul, he sends journal prompts to this email list and every day there’s a new prompt to reflect and journal on. Its my most regular spiritual practice, it’s such a nice way to inspire so many people to participate.

Allie: What are you looking forward to this coming Jewish New Year?

Miriam: I want to go on a solo backpacking or camping trip. I love being outdoors but have never done something like that on my own. I’m also excited about an interfaith summit that I’m working on this year through the Interfaith Council of Metropolitan Washington. It’s a multi-faith conference for young leaders to come together and dialogue. It will be a lot of work, but hopefully will turn out well!

Allie: When Jews of DC Gather…

Miriam: Hopefully somebody knows how to bake challah.

 

miriam

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

3 Alternative Ways to Fast this Yom Kippur

Photo from Thought Catalog, UnSplash

Yom Kippur is hard.

At least, for me – a fairly connected, yet pretty unreligious Jew on her own spiritual journey and trying to figure out how these traditional rituals fit into her own life – if they even do hold meaning and have a place in her life – Yom Kippur can be a tricky time of year.

I love the idea of an annual time of year to do some serious “soul-accounting”, but as someone who never grew up engaging with the High Holidays beyond two mind-numbingly boring services and a day without eating (which in reality was having the annual conversation with my mom, “you can fast if you want to, but Julie you really don’t have to, there’s no pressure…”) – how do I meaningfully engage with this day as an adult? How do I observe this holiday without these fledgling practices that come with it feeling rote, like I’m going through the motions of Yom Kippur without actually getting the “why” behind them?

Luckily, there’s a long Jewish history of diving head-first into practice and doing the learning as we go.

From the time the Jews accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai, it was all about “na’aseh vnishma” – “we will do and we will understand”. Understanding the meaning behind a practice or a law is important and valuable, and certainly the ultimate goal. But, if we continue to wait until we feel like we’re “ready” to meaningfully engage with a Jewish custom, we may never feel brave enough, never knowledgeable enough, never Jewish enough to take the plunge.

The good news is, if you’re relating to anything I’ve written thus far, you’re not alone! And I am ready to take that plunge with you.

Yom Kippur starts tonight, and as you may know, a huge component of this holiday is the idea of fasting – but why? Let’s dig into some background.

Why do we fast on Yom Kippur?

As one of the holiest days of the year, Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. It’s when we reflect and repent for our sins and seek forgiveness from those we have hurt. Fasting is meant to be a vehicle for repentance, to “self-deny” (Leviticus 23:32) in order to truly reflect on the repentance process. As Jewish educator Aliza Bulow has said,

“The purpose of fasting is to bring one to repent, and true repentance brings about a change in actions. However, repenting without fasting is not enough.”

Interesting concept. The thing is – and I know this might be the choosy millennial in me coming out – fasting doesn’t really “connect” with me. In these days of intermittent fasting and OMAD, I know so many people who don’t even blink at not eating for a full day. While I don’t follow those food practices, I frequently find myself working through lunch without realizing and decide to just wait until dinner. Part of my ongoing reluctance to engage with the fasting tradition on Yom Kippur stems from the fact that, well, it isn’t really too much a hardship for me, and it’s not a self-denial that’s going to cause me to turn inward to truly stop and reflect, so why bother?

In discussing this disinterest in fasting with my cohort in GatherDC’s High Holidays Prep Class last month led by Rabbi Ilana, I started hearing about alternative ways people have taken this idea of fasting and made it their own. So – in the vein of me being a choosy millennial who wants to do it ~*her own way*~ – I’ve compiled this list of alternative ways people have interpreted the idea of self-denial and molded it to fit their own lifestyles. If you have other suggestions, ideas, or perspectives – please email me at juliet@gatherdc.org or comment below. I’d love to discuss further!

Fast from Social Media

social media fast

We’ve all complained about the monotony of the endless march of baby photos from our high school peers and the political memes from our family members, but when it comes down to it, we can’t seem to put the phone down! Addicted to the meager hit of serotonin that little Instagram heart provides, I find myself checking my apps without even realizing it. I put my phone down, only to immediately pick it up 17 seconds later to scroll mindlessly, before realizing what I’ve just done and throwing my phone down in disgust. 

This fast is, frankly, deeply appealing. What better way to connect with yourself and reflect on the past year, than by removing the device that may be a gateway, but is also one of the biggest barriers in connecting to your larger social world? Disconnect, power down, and let yourself sink into the past year without the aid of your timeline. What went wrong? Where could you have done better? The answers might be hard, but they definitely won’t be found behind your screens.

Fast from Waste

plastic fast

This concept was first introduced to me by GatherDC’s Rabbi Ilana, who sent me the Cleanse 5780 challenge as a different way to connect with the High Holiday season. Cleanse 5780, led by Shaina Shealey and Arielle Golden, is a 10-day initiative using the Days of Awe (the 10-day period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) to intensively reflect on “the mind/body/spirit connection” by eliminating food-based, single-use plastics from your life.

This “cleanse” spoke deeply to my rapidly growing environmental panic, and gave me the space and permission to start thinking about how I can change my habits to be kinder to our world. I really love the idea of fasting from some of the most wasteful aspects of our modern life. In refraining from participating in needless and harmful waste, we can use these energies instead to reflect on the things we can repent for as it pertains to our ecological sins and how we can change our actions to do and be better going forward.

Fast from Judgment

gossip

This might seem like an odd contender for a blog on how to observe and engage with the Day of Judgment, but hear me out.

Judgment is a daily part of our lives, and sometimes it can be helpful – being able to take stock of social situations and make snap judgments is critical to navigating our social world and maintaining one’s physical safety in it, especially in a young, vibrant, urban environment like Washington, DC. However, I think many of us often find ourselves unfairly judging strangers, our social networks, even our friends and family, and it becomes harmful very quickly when this judgment shifts from doing it for yourself and to being a harmful action you do to others.

Our connected world makes it easier than ever to pass this mean, petty type of judgment, to feel judged by the virtual masses (see: Social Media Fast), even to pass overly-critical negative judgment on ourselves! As Rabbi Adina Allen said in her Erev (eve of) Rosh Hashanah sermon just last week, “…we are all too quick to take God’s place, elevating ourselves to the role of arbiter, looking upon one another harshly, judging loudly, sentencing with impunity.” What if we left the judgment to God tomorrow and chose to navigate our day entirely without judgment, in order to more fully focus and turn inward to reflect on our own actions of the last year?

These three alternatives to fasting might not be enshrined in the Torah, but they’re still a way to connect with the themes and the meaning behind the day. I don’t have all the answers– in fact, I think I might be less certain of myself than I was when I started this article. What I do know, is that in really sitting and thinking about what this holiday and process represents, I’ve put more thought into my “teshuva” (Jewish process of reflection and repentance) than I ever have in years previously, maybe ever – and isn’t self-reflection, repentance, and growth what it’s all about?

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About the Author: Julie Thompson keeps Gather’s wheels turning behind the scenes as GatherDC’s Office Manager.  When Julie isn’t at the Gather office, she’s probably out with friends trying a new restaurant across DC, planning her next big trip to explore a new corner of the world, or snuggled in with a good book and her rescue cat, Chloe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site

Meet Joe: Jewish Social Butterfly of the Week!

joe

Allie: How did you wind up in DC?

Joe: I’m originally from Connecticut, and then my family moved to North Carolina. I was most recently living in Baltimore and working for Hillel, but saw my social life continually shift more and more towards DC, and sometimes I found myself here 5-7 times a week. Eventually, I decided I might as well move here. 

Allie: What’s your favorite part about living in the District?

Joe: I really like the hustle and bustle of DC. It’s not quite NYC hectic-ness, but there are a lot of things going on, and so many different types of people and diverse international cultures. I have a hard time staying focused on one thing. I like to have lots of different passions, and feel like I’ve been able to pursue those in DC.

I lived in Moishe House Columbia Heights when I first moved here which was a huge passion of mine. I also love to perform and see shows and there are just so many wonderful theaters here. I also sing in the Gay Men’s Chorus here which is massive and has so much going on. Not to mention the DC food scene – I’ve become such a foodie, especially when it comes to brunch and ramen.

Allie: Describe your dream day in DC from start to finish.

Joe: It would start at 801 DC for their bottomless brunch, they give you entire bottles of champagne and carafes of strawberry puree, grapefruit, orange, and peach or apricot juices, and you can make your own mimosas. The food is great, and there is a rooftop you can sit on so you can get a fresh breeze. After a couple of hours there, I’d see what kind of festivals are going on. I love people watching. Then, I’d go to a wine bar where I can sit outside with friends. I’d definitely get ramen at Haikan for dinner. Their ramen melts in your mouth, it’s delicious. After that, I’d go see a couple of drag shows and almost certainly end the night doing karaoke at Dupont Italian Kitchen.

joe

Allie: I heard you started Capital Qvellers. Tell me about this group and what inspired you to create it.

Joe: Capital Qvellers is an open group for anyone who identifies at LGBTQ+ and Jewish and is a young adult. It started because we were a group of people who got grouped together for Shabbat dinners because we were all queer-identifying. We realized there wasn’t really a space that we felt encompassed an open, inclusive community for LGBTQ+ young Jewish adults in DC where they could feel celebrated, reaffirmed, and be able to reconnect with their Jewish identity. 

We started just doing Shabbat dinners once a month with support from Moishe House and OneTable. Then, Moishe House gave us a grant to do our first leadership retreat last year for young adults who were all really interested in building and creating a strong LGBTQ+ Jewish community. It became apparent that there was a large number of people who needed and wanted a space like this. If you want to get involved, email DCLGBTQJews@gmail.com, friend me on Facebook, or check out our Facebook page.

Allie: Has Judaism always been such a central part of your identity?

Joe: Being Jewish is very much a core part of who I am today, but no, it has not always been that way. I was adopted by distant, non-Jewish relatives and was raised in a Christian home. I didn’t even find out about my Jewish heritage until I was in high school. At that point, I already felt like Christianity didn’t vibe with me, but wasn’t sure what I believed. 

When I went to college, I had a Jewish suite mate my freshman year who used a little electric menorah to do the Hanukkah blessings, which was my first time lighting a menorah. I went to a Hanukkah party at Hillel, and then wound up dating a Jewish guy, singing with the Jewish acapella group, and it just sort of snowballed from there. 

The Jewish community was so affirming and accepting of my queer identity, and I was very appreciative of that. I also lost my biological mom when I was in college and the Jewish community was so there for me during that time. I did an alternative spring break trip with AJWS through my Hillel and it really opened my eyes to Judaism’s focus on charity, dignity, and ultimately led to my decision to commit to my Judaism and have a bar mitzvah. 

So, I went to the Brandeis Collegiate Institute (BCI) that summer, and in the span of two and half weeks I learned to read Hebrew, studied my Torah portion, and had my bar mitzvah at BCI.

Allie: With the start of the Jewish New Year, what are you excited about or hoping for this coming year?

Joe: I’m excited to see Capital Qvellers go into year two and see the growth this organization has. We want to start doing more Jewish learning, and trying out new events.

Personally, I’m hoping to pause a little more this coming year. I’m always on the go and love being busy, but am excited to take moments to reflect on the beauty of the world and recognizing how much good can come from those pauses. When you pause, it creates an opportunity for someone else to do.

Allie: When Jews of DC Gather…

Joe: The earth begins to quake!

joe

Making High Holiday Plans and Picking a Synagogue

temple

In 2013, the Pew Research Center released the comprehensive survey “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” The takeaways from this study opened a lot of eyes to the state of Jewish pluralism today, and the future of Judaism in America.  In Washington Jewish Week’s 2018 article, they claimed it shocked the Jewish community, and (in part) led to the formation of DC’s 2018 Jewish Study that cited GatherDC as an effective organization in engaging Jewish young adults. Although many years have passed since this initial study, the report came to the front of my mind recently when my wife and I bought our first house together. 

Survey respondents said a lot about their connection to Judaism in the report. Two of the findings can’t seem to escape me during this exciting time for my wife and I:

  • 1) Only 28% of Jews interviewed found it “essential” for their Judaism to be a part of a Jewish community,
  • 2) Only 31% belong to a synagogue.

I wasn’t polled for this survey, but I proudly would have raised my hand for the first question. Being a part of both our local and global Jewish community is hugely important to me as a Jewish American. I’m very proud to be Jewish, and I’m very proud to be an active member of DC’s young Jewish community.

During my time in DC, I’ve lived in many different neighborhoods across the city. Most recently, my wife and I were living on Capitol Hill. We were pretty much equidistant from Eastern Market and H Street NE.  It was a great place to live, and allowed us to easily stay involved in a number of Jewish organizations across the District.

We were able to travel to Metro Minyan Shabbats and Sixth & I programs in Chinatown via a short bus or Uber ride. We could easily walk to the metro and take the Red Line to Adas Israel, GatherDC‘s townhouse, and the EDCJCC, or hop on the Blue, Orange, or Silver lines for meetings at Char Bar with Israel Bonds

Although the physical convenience was great, our desire to be a part of the DC Jewish community was about so much more than this.  Community involvement is central to how we identify Jewishly.

So, when my wife and I started to talk about purchasing our first home, we knew that – beyond the specific features of our dream home – we wanted a place that was close enough to our DC Jewish lives. We didn’t want to move to the distant suburbs because we wanted a place where we could still easily see friends and visit the Jewish places in DC that are meaningful to us.  

With the support of a local, young realtor, a mortgage banker, and a title company lawyer – all of whom we knew from the DC Jewish community – we ended up moving to Potomac, Maryland.  And we couldn’t be happier.  

new house

As we now settle into the house and experience our first Jewish High Holiday season out in Potomac, we have a new decision to make. This decision brings me back to the second part of the Pew Research Center study: should we join a synagogue?  If so, which one?  

We’ve decided that we’re going to make this decision after the High Holidays so we can start 5780 off with deeper roots in our Jewish community.

During my time in DC, I’ve attended High Holiday services in a nomadic way.  I’ve gone to Adas, Chabad, Georgetown University, Sixth & I, Washington Hebrew, and others with different sets of friends.  I think I’ve been to all services available in one way, shape, or form in my 15 years in DC. Outside of holiday services, I’ve lost track of how many Shabbats or Jewish events that I’ve attended across the DMV.

In some Jewish communities across the U.S., there may be just one or two synagogues to choose from.  DC and its suburbs are blessed to have many options, and so deciding on a congregation – and primary community to become a part of – is a big deal.  

We’d like to get to know the area rabbis in Montgomery County better and Shabbat-hop a bit.  We want to get a feel for the young Jewish professional community out in MoCo, and at each congregation too.  I’ve been to pretty much every synagogue out here for a program or two over the years, but I was always a Washingtonian coming out to the ‘burbs.  Now as a Marylander living in the ‘burbs, I feel different about deciding on a congregation. I actually think my wife and I will take more time deciding what congregation to join than deciding between our finalists when shopping for a home.

Beyond these questions of where and when to join a congregation, the other question that we’ve been toying with is whether we should stay attached to the DC Jewish community, or plant our roots and grow into the Maryland Jewish community? 

At best, I’ve always seen the DC, Maryland, and Northern Virginia Jewish communities as cousins more than brothers or sisters, and each has its own distinct community dynamics.  

As Marylanders, we attended the last Metro Minyan at the Washington Hebrew Congregation’s (WHC) Macomb St home in upper NW.  Beyond going as Marylanders to our first DC communal Shabbat, it was our first time going to local services since we moved to Maryland.  Getting there was super easy for us – it ironically took less time to get to Macomb from our new home than how long it would take to get there from The Hill.  We have friends who are regulars at WHC. We like the rabbis. And WHC even has a satellite campus in Potomac that’s less than 1.5 miles from our new home.  They’re also reform, which is how my wife was raised. Joining WHC makes sense on paper – although I’m too old for their young membership program (but my wife is within the age range). But, we also have eight synagogues within 10 miles of our new home, including Temple Beth Ami as another great Reform option.

So Gather community – email, DM, text, or comment on this blog if you have advice for how you picked a congregation.  If you moved out to the ‘burbs, let me know if you stayed connected to a DC congregation or if you embarked on a new path to join a more local shul.

 

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jasonAbout the Author: Jason Langsner has been an active lay leader of the Washington Jewish community since moving to the city in 2004, and volunteers for several Jewish organizations including B’nai Brith International. He is a small business owner and formerly served as the head of digital strategy for the oldest Jewish human rights and humanitarian organization in the world. When not blogging, he can often be found walking around his Eastern Market neighborhood, or riding around DC area bike trails.

 

 

 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Meet Lisa: Jewish Relationship Journalist of the Week!

lisa

Allie: What brought you to DC?

Lisa: I’m from California and went to UCLA where I had been writing a dating column for the student newspaper. Then, I got an internship at The Washington Post right out of college. So, I packed up my stuff and moved out here for what I thought was going to be three months and have been here for 14+ years.

Allie: What inspired you to become a journalist?

Lisa: In second grade, we had to write a story about our worst day – like “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”. I included everything “bad” that had ever happened to me into the chronology of one day. My teacher showed it to another teacher and was like “isn’t this so good?!” I decided right then that I wanted to write stories. 

Allie: Tell me about the Solo-ish column you started at The Washington Post?

Lisa: I wrote an op-ed once on Valentine’s Day about how people should be picking up the phone to ask people out on first dates, and then a couple years later I got dumped by email and wrote a piece about the art of digital rejection. I was writing these one-off stories as I was continuing to edit stories about the budget and the War in Afghanistan. 

In 2014, I had a really great editor who asked me if I wanted to write a dating column. I realized I wanted to write a singles’ column that was about more than just dating, but also incorporated friendship, travel, personal finance, and figuring out your life as a person. We launched this in 2015 and called it “Solo-ish”. It’s now under “Relationships.”

Allie: What are your favorite pieces you’ve written for “Solo-ish”/”Relationships”?

Lisa: I wrote a piece about going to my college boyfriend’s wedding. The wedding was fun but also kind of terrible. In part, the wedding made me feel like I was behind in my life because I hadn’t been in a significant relationship since that relationship, but it also helped me reflect on how great it is that we have this friendship that spans over a decade. Writing helps me process my emotions. 

I also love writing pieces where I can talk about the larger culture that we’re in. Dating and relationships might seem frivolous or non-essential, but they’re really not. They’re what we live for. There’s hope and despair and sadness and discovery and joy and friendship – all the elements that are in every good story happen in love stories.

Another favorite piece is from a few months ago. I got to go to a romantic comedy festival in LA this past summer. The woman running the festival was in a relationship with her high school crush. She sent him a letter at the end of high school that was like, “I really like you, but you missed your chance with me!” They stayed in touch, and eventually decided to date when they were in their late 20s. Now they’re together and he was there following her around all weekend. I asked her boyfriend why he didn’t swoop in and propose to her during the festival, and he said that he didn’t want to take the spotlight off of her and become focused on their relationship. I realized that this woman was living in a 2019 romantic comedy. If it were set in 1999, her boyfriend would have proposed and made it a big spectacle. Since its 2019, love is a little quieter and more equal. 

lisa

Allie: What is your favorite part about being a journalist?

Lisa: I’m super nosy, and it’s my job to ask the most personal questions of people. Having those really deep, intense conversations with anyone who is willing to have them with me is super rewarding and interesting.

Allie: What is one dating tip you’ve taken away from your years of writing about relationships?

Lisa: Everyone has something interesting about them. They might not be the person for you, but everyone has something interesting and lovable to discover.

Allie: Walk me through your perfect DC day from start to finish.

Lisa: It would start by a friend texting me, “Want to go have brunch at the diner?” It would be unplanned. When you’re in your late 30s, you don’t really do planned brunches anymore. I might wander over to La Colombe for a tan-line. I would gather some friends to act out a famous movie. We did this to commemorate the 30th anniversary of “When Harry Met Sally” in July, which is one of my favorite movies. Most recently, we did this with “Princess Bride”. It was amazing with the drum circle behind us making the whole thing feel more intense. Everyone brought their own special flavor, energy, and voice. Then, I would bring people over to grill on my rooftop where we have a view of Adams Morgan. I would end the day by spending some time with a novel.

Allie: What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?

Lisa: I’m still playing Pokémon Go.

Allie: Anything else you want to share? 

Lisa: I have to share some of my favorite Jewish pick-up lines I’ve heard at events. Someone once came up to me and said, “So, where did you go to camp?” Another time someone walked up to me at a Moishe House event and asked, “Sarah? Rachel? Rebecca?”

Allie: When Jews of DC Gather…

Lisa: Chaos ensues.

lisa and friends

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The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Your 2019 High Holiday Gifting Guide

With Rosh Hashanah coming up this year, you might be searching for a special gift for your significant other, friend, or family member. Perhaps, after spending the last 30+ High Holidays at your parent’s home, you might be looking for a small gift that shows your folks how much you appreciate them letting you crash in your childhood bedroom and taking advantage of their family shul tickets all these years. Use this guide to find unique, custom, and local gift ideas that are sure to sweeten up the holiday for those you love the most. 

For the fashionable 

Ariel Tidhar has a great selection of custom-designed jewelry that would be sure to complete any look.  She has a range of designs and products from hair pins to necklaces. For example, these pomegranate earrings are a personal favorite of mine and offered at a range of price points.  All her products are handmade in New York City. 

gift

Jewish Hairclips from Ariel Tidhar

For the foodie 

One of my favorite Jewish chefs is the District’s own Paula Shoyer.  Her cookbook, The Holiday Kosher Baker, is a must for any Jewish household – even if you don’t keep kosher!  The banana bread recipe in there is without a doubt the best recipe I’ve ever tried. For that alone, this book can make the perfect housewarming or hosting gift.  It’s guaranteed to get a lot of use by the food lovers in your life.

For the art collector 

DC local Marcella Kriebel makes some fantastic art prints that would make very appropriate gifts for the New Year.  Her apple and pomegranate prints are both reasonably priced and absolutely gorgeous pieces that can add a bit of flair into spaces that may be lacking.

Pomegranate Fruit Watercolor by Marcella Kriebel

                                                                                                                  

If you’re looking for something for the spiritual person in your life, I can’t recommend the artist Jessica Tamar Deutsch enough. Her shop on Society6 has a range of different artwork that you can get printed as wall art, tote bags, and even mobile phone cases. Her artwork is colorful, energetic, and intrinsically Jewish.

Love and Fear mobile phone case by Jessica Tamar Deutsch

For the reader

Lastly, for the quiet reader in your life, check out The Jewish Book Council’s “Paper Brigade.  This is a collection of Jewish writings and illustrations that are all as gorgeous as they are captivating. I bought Volume II for my mother’s birthday last year. With Volume III out now, she might just be receiving this version soon enough.  Each volume is unique, so you can gift just one or the whole set.

For the hard-to-gift

If you’ve read through this blog and still can’t pick something out for your special someone, it can’t hurt to pick up a gift basket from “Baked by Yael”.  Their cake pops and chocolates are guaranteed to sweeten the mood of even the most difficult of family members.

Wishing you and your loved ones a very sweet new year!

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brettAbout the Author:  Brett Boren is a Conservative Jewish guy who loves his mother’s challah, but could do without her latkes.  Originally from Miami, he appreciates arroz con pollo as much as double-chocolate babka, though preferably not together.  When he’s not experimenting in the kitchen, he can be found with his cat, Youpi, or sampling shawarma at Max’s.

 

 

 

 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Not Your Bubbie’s High Holiday Playlist

music

The iconic Mexican queer artist Frida Kahlo once said, “I think that little by little, I’ll be able to solve my problems and survive.

With the High Holidays around the corner, Frida’s quote resonates with me even more. As the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, I feel the need to ensure Jewish rituals survive on a very deep level. I believe this is why the High Holidays are so special. It’s a time to focus on forgiving and seeking atonement, but also surviving by continuing with our rituals, while creating new ones. And for me, music is a very important component of our Jewish rituals during the High Holidays.     

During Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), not only do we atone for our sins, but little by little, we solve our problems and like Frida Kahlo said, “survive.” Leading up to Yom Kippur, the Kol Nidre service is often known as a time that music can be especially healing for the New Year. Personally, I think you can have an inspiring playlist to listen to throughout the entire High Holiday season. I’ve compiled some of my favorite contemporary songs for the High Holidays that encourage reflection and healing. Many of the songs are by Jewish artists from Drake to Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boy’s, others are by amazing lyrical artists such asTupac Shakur. 

This playlist is meant to get you in the vibe of ushering in the New Year. So, L’Shanah Tovah. Here’s to a sweet new year! L’Chaim! 

NOTE: If this list inspires you to think of other songs that help you connect to the High Holidays, I encourage you to comment below with the name/artist.

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“Ghetto Gospel” by Tupac Shakur

“And when it’s said and done. I bet this brother be a better one. If I upset you don’t stress. Never forget, that God isn’t finished with me yet.” 

“Root Down” by the Beastie Boys

”Bob Marley was a prophet for the freedom fight. If dancin’ prays to the Lord, then I shall feel alright. I’m feeling good to play a little music.“ 

“I Shall Be Released” by Joan Baez, written by Bob Dylan

“I see my light come shining from the west unto the east. Any day now, any day now

I shall be released.”

“Tears for ODB” by J Cole  

“Rather die before I fake it. They say life is what you make it. Lord have mercy on my soul. What I’ve done and what I’ve seen, my life is tumbled into stuff, which only you can intervene.”             

“Brand New Me” by Alicia Keys

“Don’t be mad. It’s just the brand new kind of me. Can’t be bad, I found a brand new kind of free. If you were worth a while, you’d be happy to see me smile.”                             

“God’s Plan” by Drake

“I don’t wanna die for them to miss me. Yes, I see the things that they wishin’ on me. Hope I got some brothers that outlive me. They gon’ tell the story, shit was different with me.”  

“Thunder Road” by Bruce Springsteen

”You can hide ‘neath your covers and study your pain, make crosses from your lovers, throw roses in the rain, waste your summer praying in vain for a savior to rise from these streets.”  

“Everything is Everything” by Lauryn Hill

”Now, everything is everything. What is meant to be, will be. After winter, must come spring. Change will come eventually.”  

“Sometimes it Snows in April” by Prince

“I often dream of heaven and I know that Tracy’s there. I know that he has found another friend. Maybe he’s found the answer to all the April snow. Maybe one day, I’ll see my Tracy again. Sometimes it snows in April. Sometimes I feel so bad, so bad. Sometimes I wish that life was never ending. But all good things, they say, never last.” 

“Keep Ya Head Up” by Tupac Shakur

But please don’t cry, dry your eyes, never let up. Forgive but don’t forget, girl keep your head up. And when he tells you you ain’t nuttin’ don’t believe him. And if he can’t learn to love you, you should leave him. ‘Cause sista you don’t need him.”

 

Full Playlist Here

 

micheleAbout the Author: Michele Amira is a nice Jewish girl,  DC based journalist, spoken word artist, and vegan. When not writing, she might be found Israeli dancing,  listening to hip-hop, and enjoying a l’chaim (toast) with her favorite drink – margaritas on the rocks. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Meet Aurell: Jewish Doctor of the Week

aurellAllie: What brought you to DC?

Aurell: I’m from Kansas City, originally, went to medical school in Tel Aviv. Most recently, I was living in Denver after residency but had no family around because they’re all in DC. I also wanted to find a place with a bigger Jewish community. So, I looked for jobs in DC and found a hospital that fit what I was looking for, and moved here. 

Allie: What kind of medicine do you practice?

Aurell: I did my residency in internal medicine, and practice as a hospitalist, which is basically an internal doctor who only works in hospitals. I see a lot of cancer patients, and patients with pretty challenging cases.

Allie: What’s your favorite thing about being a doctor?

Aurell: I feel like it’s something I can become better at all the time as I deal with challenging situations and learn to problem solve. I can feel myself becoming a better physician each year, and that’s the best gift you can give to a future patient. I really like interacting with patients and collaborating with the people on my team. It’s very rewarding.

What’s your favorite way to relax after a long work week in the hospital?

Aurell: I like treating myself to spa days. A facial, massages, anything involved in going to a spa. I also recently started playing golf which is very fun.

Allie: Describe your perfect DC day from start to finish.

Aurell: I’d wake up very late. I really enjoy sleeping in. Then, I’d work out. I like doing lots of different types of exercises like spinning, boxing, lifting weights. I’d pick one of those to do. At night, I’d probably go see an artist I like at the 9:30 Club. I like upbeat, dance music, but have pretty eclectic taste. I recently saw Zara Larsson there and have tickets to see Lauv at The Anthem

Allie: What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?

Aurell: When I lived in Israel my favorite Jewish holiday was Shavuot because it was widely celebrated, but since moving to DC my favorite holiday has shifted to Hanukkah. There are just so many fun activities and the whole thing seems to last a month. I see my friends more often around Hanukkah time because there are so many fun events for young adults.

aurellAllie: Do you have any Jewish New Year resolutions?

Aurell: I don’t. I’m not into making resolutions because I feel like you should always be working on and for yourself. My mantra is to continuously be better, learn from others, and not wait for a certain time to work on yourself.

Allie: Do you have anything on your bucket list?

Aurell: I want to go on a big Scotland, Ireland, England trip. There is a lot of history and scenery I want to see.

Allie: When Jews of DC Gather…

Aurell: Babies are made.

 

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.